It couldn’t have been a punchier slogan than this—One Nation, One Merit, One Examination. It couldn’t have been phrased better to promise wings to thousands of youngsters dreaming of a career in medicine, surgery or dentistry. The ones aching to take the Hippocratic oath after proving their merit and rigour. The “oneness” was also the sole argument for implementing the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) in 2016 for admission to medical colleges in the country. Less than three years on, the exam appears to be in a muddle. Merit—as it happens always—has been relegated to the sidelines, while a ‘domicile’ criterion has become the overriding touchtone for the national test conceived to cut all things retrograde to India’s already dysfunctional medical education, starting with enrolment of students. Things have come to such a pass now that states are reserving seats for their ‘domicile’ candidates even in private colleges.
Several experts are of the view that the states are harkening back to the very ideas that are antithetical to NEET and trying to undo merit as the top criterion in selection of students for the MBBS and BDS courses in medical colleges within their jurisdiction. These states had opposed NEET when it replaced the All-India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT), along with the pre-dental entrance test, to select candidates for 15 per cent seats in all government medical colleges across the country. The states held their own entrance tests to fill 85 per cent seats in government colleges and 100 per cent seats in private institutions. That gave the states a much bigger say in the fiercely competitive entrance tests to a handful of medical colleges—and also the power to manipulate.